Michael Janich, John Riddle, Kelly McCann, Mike Gillette and Tom Gresham — each an expert in one or more aspects of self-defense — answer questions about guns, knives and terrorism.

Question 7: Do you recommend that people who are concerned about defending themselves in situations like the ones we're discussing consider lawfully carrying a firearm — assuming they have an interest and have had the proper training? Mike Gillette: They should consider it, but there are many layers to this issue, everything from what the prevailing laws are that govern the use of force when protecting yourself to how to store the weapon safely in your home. The responsibilities of owning and carrying a firearm are considerable. And once you’ve sorted out the logistical aspects of carrying a firearm, you still have to be able to competently handle that firearm. And that takes the right training — to develop the physical skills and decision-making ability. Although it may sound counterintuitive, self-defense, whether armed or unarmed, is very much a thinking person’s game.

Photo Courtesy of Mike Gillette


Tom Gresham: Whether to carry a gun is an intensely personal decision, and it’s one that should not be made lightly. Without specific training in the defensive use of a firearm, no matter what your experience is with shooting or hunting, it’s likely that everything you “know” is wrong. If you decide to carry a gun, you should make a commitment of time and money to get annual training — at least one day of training, and better if it is three days. You should commit to firing at least 50 rounds a month in practice. You must know the law. You must commit to avoiding areas and situations which could require you to use your firearm. Responsible people understand that it is a major change in lifestyle to carry a firearm.

Photo Courtesy of Tom Gresham

John Riddle: Being a responsible firearm owner does not mean purchasing a firearm, shooting once or twice, and then thinking you know it all. Seek out a professional who will teach you proper defensive firearms training along with the laws of your state. Practice is also important. Shooting paper or steel is nice, but it does not shoot back. You need to find someone who is well-versed in teaching defensive firearms with scenario-based training built in.

Photo Courtesy of John Riddle

Question 8: How useful could a knife be in the hands of a trained martial artist who’s facing a lone-wolf terrorist? Mike Gillette: The effectiveness of bladed weapons tends to be underestimated, but a single stab wound is statistically more lethal than a single bullet wound. And consider this: A knife never runs out of ammunition; never jams; never misfires; rarely misses its target; can cut tendons, muscles, arteries and veins with one thrust; and has superior concealment capabilities over a firearm. Mike Janich: A knife — powered by proper training — can be a very effective weapon. Obviously, a knife is a contact-distance tool, so you must be able to physically touch the terrorist to use it effectively. However, in some circumstances, it can be a better choice than a gun because it is selective and does not pose a risk of injury to innocent bystanders. Used properly, a knife can also instantly disable an attacker, while a gunshot may not be immediately incapacitating.

Michael Janich Photo by Rick Hustead

John Riddle: A knife can be as good as any other weapon — or it can be useless. If you do not have a plan or have not trained with a knife, chances are you will freeze under the pressure and fear. There also are some issues you need to take into consideration — such as proximity. Can you spring into action to stop the attacker immediately and without hesitation? Does he have a weapon? Is it a knife, a firearm or an explosive vest wrapped around him? You must ask yourself if you can reach him fast enough to terminate the threat with no other damage being done. (To be continued.) Read Part One of this article here and Part Two here.

Black Belt Hall of Famer Kelly McCann on Weapons

Kelly McCann was one of the five self-defense experts consulted for this article, but he didn’t get a chance to weigh in on these weapons questions. For that reason, we’re including his answers to these questions. Question 9: Should the law have any bearing on what a person trains to do and actually does during a self-defense encounter? Kelly McCann: The generalized answer is, you’ve got to apply the “reasonable man” test. If you’ve lived your life lawfully and have no history of altercations, and you were avoidant on the day of the incident — if you can say, “These were the steps I took to avoid this; there was nothing else I could do” — you’ll probably be OK.

Kelly McCann Photo by Robert Reiff

But if the police find out that you had an illegal weapon in your possession prior to the assault when there was no risk, you’re in trouble. In other words, if you’ve been carrying around an illegal weapon, stop doing that.

Stream a no-holds-barred seminar by Kelly McCann, Black Belt’s 2008 Self-Defense Instructor of the Year, to your digital device! Click here to watch a teaser for Kelly McCann’s 5-Volume Combatives Self-Defense Course.

If you decide to use pre-emption, it must be based on pre-incident indicators you noticed and reasonably resulted in your decision to use force to protect yourself because you perceived an imminent physical threat. You’ve got to be able to articulate those precise pre-incident indicators and predatory behaviors to a responding police officer or in court. Question 10: What kind of weapons should martial artists carry for self-defense, and what should they have at home? Kelly McCann: The legal ones. Make sure you meet all your state’s legal requirements before getting or carrying a weapon. OC gas (pepper spray) is great to carry because it’s a distance weapon. You can use it early in an altercation, before you even make contact with the assailant, and not a lot of technique is required. When it’s legal, an expandable baton is also great because it gives you distance. It’s basically a stick, and everybody can use a stick with some degree of success.

The pocket stick — also known as the yawara or kubotan — is good if you have the skills to use it, but it’s not quite as effective as the expandable baton because you have to close with your attacker. Knives are certainly good — if you’ve got the guts to use one. A sharp instrument is a great weapon; trouble is, its use is generally viewed as felonious. If you ever use a knife in self-defense, you’ll probably get killed in court. The opposing attorneys will undoubtedly say a higher standard applies because you’ve been trained and that you should have tried to ... blah, blah, blah. That’s why OC gas and pocket sticks are better weapons for those who know how to use them. Kelly McCann has created a crash course in empty-hand fighting, as well as defense against the stick, knife and gun. In the past, the only way to get this training was to wait for a McCann seminar to be scheduled in a city near you, but now the instruction is available anytime, anywhere on your digital device. Click here for more information.

Black Belt Magazine has a storied history that dates back all the way to 1961, making 2021 the 60th Anniversary of the world's leading magazine of martial arts. To celebrate six decades of legendary martial arts coverage, take a trip down memory lane by scrolling through some of the most influential covers ever published. From the creators of martial art styles, to karate tournament heroes, to superstars on the silver screen, and everything in between, the iconic covers of Black Belt Magazine act as a time capsule for so many important moments and figures in martial arts history. Keep reading to view the full list of these classic issues.

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